Friday, August 26, 2011

Donating Race Medals To Recovering Patients - The Simple Genius of Medals4Mettle (Interview)

Do you have a drawer full of finisher medals from all your marathons, ultras, or triathlons? Have you ever wondered if they could be used for more than your "Me Wall" (where it's all about ME) or the occasional dress up with your kids? I went digging around and found an organization called Medals4Mettle that facilitates getting your medals to recovering patients, kids for the most part, who use the medals as a source of strength to get to their own finish line. The more I investigated, the more I realized that these finisher medals are worth their weight in karmic gold.

Medals4Mettle (M4M) was started by Dr. Steven Isenberg, a head and neck surgeon in Indianapolis who had impulsively given his finisher medal for the 2003 Chicago Marathon to a friend surviving cancer, feeling that his marathon finish paled in comparison to his friends struggle. Later, that friend would tell Dr. Isenberg how much the gesture meant, and how the medal continued to be a source of strength. Seeing a chance for good on a large scale, he started the non-profit, which has already helped place over 17,000 medals, largely to children's hospitals.

I had a chance to ask Bill Preston, President of Medals4Mettle, a bit about the organization:

1) M4M is a great idea. How did it get from the inception in 2003 to a full-blown non-profit?

It was Dr. Isenberg who took the initiative, realizing that all that was needed was a go-between to collect medals and match them up to patients and hospitals. We are continuing to grow through a network of volunteer coordinators who can help on a more local basis, and the word continues to grow and more and more get involved.

(Coordinator Pam Kassner collecting medals)

2) How many finisher medals have you given to patients so far? How do you choose who gets them?

We’ve donated over 17,000 medals since the inception of the charity over 6 years ago.  Who receives a medal is at the discretion of the coordinators.  We simply ask that the recipient be a person who faces challenges on a daily basis that we take for granted.  Our hope is to acknowledge and encourage a person, basically make them feel like they are winners and just crossed a finish line.  The largest recipients of the medals are children in hospitals but we would never turn away any agency that would benefit from our charity.  Our recipients range from cancer survivors to patients in VA hospitals, and anything in between.     

(A son battling leukemia and his mom, battling breast cancer, show off their hardware...btw, CALL YOUR MOTHER!)

3) Can anyone donate a medal? Do you have demand for specific races or kinds of races? The readers of this blog include a wide range of endurance nuts, from triathletes, to ultra marathoners, to adventure racers. 

Yes, anyone can donate their medal as long as it is earned (no surplus medals from race directors).  Our charity only focuses on running related endurance medals (half marathon distance or longer, and any distance triathlon).  Disney medals are the most popular with kids, but all medals are accepted and greatly appreciated.    

4) What's the biggest donation of medals you have ever received?

At one Indianapolis Mini Marathon, we received over 400 medals. But every medal makes a difference. We have been lucky that some professional athletes like Brian Sell and Bonnie Blair have donated their time and medals, which is helping get the word out. 

5) I love that M4M makes philanthropy so accessible. Can someone donate a medal alone, or do they need to send cash too?

We attach our signature silk ribbon to each medal, emblazoned with the M4M logo as a way to link our organization to the medal.  Our coordinators are responsible for raising funds to purchase those ribbons and we sell them to our coordinators at cost.  Some people would rather donate a couple dollars rather than part with their medal.  Both forms of donation are greatly appreciated and will be put to good use. 

(Brianna Whittemore donates her medal to Joshua, a patient at Cardinal Glennon in St. Louis)
6) If somebody wanted to personally adorn a medal to a patient, could they do that?

Yes, we do sell ribbons from our website for just such an occasion.  We’ve also helped whenever a donor has requested that a specific medal go to a specific person. You really get to understand how much these medals mean to the patients when it's done in person.

7) How else can we help get the word out about M4M?

I would answer that based upon a person’s interest. If you have ties to the running or triathlon community, our cotton t-shirts are great conversation starters, and can be purchased through the website.  Consider mentioning our charity in a blurb on a local running newsletter or website link.
If you have ties to the medical community, help us find an organization that could benefit by receiving our medals.

If neither of those fits you, please consider helping raise funds for our ribbons.  Become a ribbon-a-month donor, have a bake sale, challenge your friends to top your donation.  Even if our charity is not a good fit, then find one that has meaning to you.  I promise, few things will give you more joy. 

Thank you, Bill, and good luck!

- SD 


  1. I recently came across this organization as well, and was somewhat sad (not too much) that I had donated all my marathon medals to an elementary school back in OR. Since then, I haven't run much in terms of getting finisher's medals (more of a buckle type of races:)), but I will dig into the closets as we pack and hope to find a couple. It is my understanding we just fill up a form with our "earned" story and send it? I think the idea is awesome, and "me" wall is totally overrated, but then again, I have very few attachments to belongings, and medals are not them. Thanks for bringing attention to it, Scott, and hope we generate a big movement in community to help kids and adults who battle bigger fights get real celebrations.

  2. Well done article-very interesting/informative..


    (Feel free to post on our forum)David burlison

  3. Scott,

    one of my friends is head of the MI chapter of M4M and I was fortunate to not only interview him ( but go to a hospital ( and pass out medals. Truly one of my favorite running related days. Great interview.

  4. That is absolutely FANTASTIC!! I LOVE it! I only wish I'd done more events by now to donate. I only have three medals (my only two marathons and only half marry) but would probably be willing to part with one. Shoot, probably all three since it's doing such wonderful things. So very cool - thanks for sharing!

  5. Love this idea! Regretting that I haven't signed up for the finisher medals at my previous races. I know where my upcoming marathon medal is going.

  6. HI there.. I just happened on this thread when searching online! I have a box full of medals I want to donate to this charity but the girl who runs the local office said they require a form with each medal with a description of why I ran the race etc. I honestly dont have much reason for running races other than I really like running..LOL. Do you know if this is usually how it is? I notice in your post it mentions someone donating 400 medals,... I am assuming they did not do 400 write-ups to go with those?
    thanks for any info.. great blog by the way :)


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